Medal machine, and not leader

SINGAPORE - The Singapore women's table tennis players have enjoyed a tremendous run at the last three world championships.

They won silver in 2008, stunned mighty China to win gold in 2010 and finished second again in 2012.

Feng Tianwei has been a part of all three teams. She was also in the team that won a silver and a bronze at the last two Olympics, and at the London Games in 2012, she also finished third in the women's singles.

She has long been Singapore No. 1, but the upcoming World Team Table Tennis Championships will be her first big tournament as captain of the women's squad.

Quiet and unassuming, the 27-year-old's demeanour suggests she is not the kind of leader who motivates and rallies her teammates with Churchillian speeches.

Feng could afford to crack a joke with The New Paper yesterday, when she said: "I'll know what to do. It's just deciding what colour we wear for our jerseys."

The world No. 5 obviously knows what is required of her, as the women's team strive to continue their proud streak of winning a medal this year in Tokyo.

"For me, the most important thing is to play to the best of our abilities. If we can do that, then we've got a chance to medal.

"Of course, the first task is to play well enough to get to the top eight first."

Following the retirement of stalwarts like Li Jiawei, Wang Yuegu and Sun Beibei, who were all part of the team that stunned the world when they floored China to win the 2010 tournament, the national women's team have entered a stage of transition as they prepare for the 2016 Olympics.

The likes of Lin Ye (65th) and Zhou Yihan (74th) have broken into the world's top 100, but they have yet to fulfil ITTF residency requirements.

As such, Feng, who along with world No. 18 Yu Mengyu were part of the "Miracle of Moscow", will head to Japan with the relatively inexperienced Isabelle Li (215th) and Yee Herng Hwee (499th).

Their world ranking has slipped from second to fifth, which means they are not one of the four seeded teams at this year's world championships, from next Monday to May 5.

Only the winners of the four groups qualify directly for the quarter-finals, while the second and third-placed teams have to go through the round of 16.

The Singapore women have been drawn in Group C, where their biggest test will be world No. 2 South Korea.

"Sure, the world rankings affect the seedings and that can impact which group we are drawn into," said Feng, who made a visit to the Rainbow Centre -Yishun Park School, a campus for children with special needs, with her colleagues from the Singapore Table Tennis Association yesterday.

"Mengyu, Isabelle and Herng Hwee lack big-match experience, but they have to start somewhere, and as captain and teammate, I'm confident of what they are capable of.


"I've actually been captain for quite a while, but this is the biggest competition yet.

"As seniors, Jiawei, Yuegu and Beibei were very professional, composed, and they took things seriously. That's why they were so successful, and this was my biggest takeaway while we were teammates."

The paddlers completed a 44-day centralised training stint in Taiwan last week, and national women's coach Jing Junhong revealed that Feng sparred with players specialising in the chopping style.

She said: "We trained well, but to be honest, we have not set them a target for this world championships because they are a young team.

"Our main rivals to top the group are South Korea and we are underdogs because there is still a gap between our third singles player Isabelle and the third singles player of the other top nations.

"All we ask is that they achieve personal breakthroughs, and if they do, the results should follow."


l Women's team: Feng Tianwei, Yu Mengyu, Isabelle Li, Yee Herng Hwee

(Group C: South Korea, Singapore, Russia, Holland, France, Luxembourg)

l Men's team: Gao Ning, Yang Zi,Clarence Chew, Pang Xuejie

(Group B: Germany, Hong Kong, Croatia, Singapore, Denmark, Ukraine)

The women's team are in the process of strengthening. Whether the players are young or experienced, they are all part of our preparations for the next Olympics, where we hope to medal again. - STTA president Lee Bee Wah

This article was published on April 23 in The New Paper.

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